Two summers ago, a middle-aged Iranian-Canadian journalist named Zahra Kazemi was arrested in Tehran while taking photographs of regime hoodlums beating up young people who were demonstrating for freedom. A few days later she turned up dead in a local military hospital. The regime denied requests from the family and the Canadian government to examine the body, insisted that she had fallen in her prison cell and died of injuries to her head, denied that anyone had beaten her, and hastily buried her without any proper autopsy.
The Kazemi family never believed the regime’s story, but efforts to get at the truth were predictably fruitless. Until now. Dr. Shahram Azam, a medical doctor who has just been granted asylum in Canada, has presented a firsthand account of the terrible death of Zara Kazemi. He says he examined Kazemi in a military hospital in Tehran on June 26, 2003. He says he found horrific injuries to her entire body that demonstrated torture and rape. By the time he examined her–an examination limited by the Islamic republic’s sexist restrictions that made it illegal for a male doctor to look at her genital area–Kazemi was unconscious and her body was covered with bruises. According to Dr. Azam, she had a skull fracture, two broken fingers, missing fingernails, a crushed big toe, a smashed nose, deep scratches on her neck, and evidence of flogging on her legs and back.
“I could see this was caused by torture,” Azam told Canadian journalists. He added that the nurse who examined Kazemi’s genitals told him of “brutal damage.” He believes she was tortured and raped. If he is correct, we can add Zara Kazemi to a long list of women who have been brutalized by the mullah’s torturers.
The Canadian government, which briefly recalled its ambassador to Iran to demonstrate its anger when Kazemi died, is now hastily attempting to look tough. Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew condemned Iran for not holding a legitimate trial. “This new evidence, while gruesome, simply reinforces our position that this was not an accident. The family needs answers, Canadians want answers and we will not stop pursuing this case until justice is rendered.”
This is the sort of talk one hears from government officials who have no intention of doing anything serious. Listen to Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler: “The Kazemi case is a case study of whether Iran is finally going to come clean, become accountable and show that is a citizen of the international community,” Cotler said. “If they don’t respond properly, and accountably in this instance then they will expose themselves for all the world to see as an outlaw nation.”
The point, however, is that the mullahs have long “exposed themselves” as an outlaw nation. The question is whether the Western world, including the United States, is going to do the one thing required to render justice: Support those Iranians who want to free their people from the grips of this murderous regime.
The brutal treatment of Iranian women by the mullahcracy is a daily occurrence, not an isolated case. As “Iran Focus” reported on March 2, “at least 54 Iranian girls and young women, between the ages of 16 and 25, are sold on the streets of Karachi in Pakistan on a daily basis,” according to “a senior women’s affairs analyst…speaking to a state-run news agency.” The analyst, Mahboubeh Moghadam, added that there are at least 300,000 runaway girls in Iran right now, the result, in Moghadam’s words, of “the government policy which has resulted in poverty and the deprival of rights for the majority of people in society.”
Professor Donna M. Hughes, at the University of Rhode Island, one of the few Western scholars courageous enough to keep reporting on these horrors, says that the enslaved women are typically sold to people in the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, such as Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. But the slave trade is not limited to the Islamic world:
Police have uncovered a number of prostitution and slavery rings operating from Tehran that have sold girls to France, Britain and Turkey as well. One network based in Turkey bought smuggled Iranian women and girls, gave them fake passports, and transported them to European and Persian Gulf countries. In one case, a 16-year-old girl was smuggled to Turkey, and then sold to a 58-year-old European national for $20,000.”
Moghadam suggested (and remember that this does not come from a samizdat network, but from a broadcast on national radio) “that such a task was very difficult to carry out without some sort of government green-light.”
As I have lamented these many years, the one word that constantly recurs in accounts of life in Iran is “degradation.” This degradation is both physical and moral, encompassing the steady breakdown of the national infrastructure (especially the roads), the health of the people, drug addiction, prostitution, and ubiquitous corruption, from government ministers on down. And as Natan Sharansky reminds us, the regimes that support terror also direct terror at their own people, and thus it is no accident that Iran is at once the world’s leading supporter of international terrorism and one of the cruelest oppressors of its own people.
President Bush and his team of self-declared democratic revolutionaries have done a lot of talking about supporting the Iranian people, but they haven’t delivered on their promises. As they talk, the toll mounts, from Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to Canadians brutally murdered in Tehran, to the oppression and exploitation of the Iranian people, above all the women.
Faster, please. It’s getting embarrassing, you know.
–Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.